Even during the summer, educators are always thinking about returning to school, particularly when it comes to back-to-school activities. Learning never stops, whether engaged in professional development through conferences or online events, reading books, listening to podcasts, or exploring new ideas and reflecting.
During the school year, time is hard to find as teachers focus on students' skills and needs and explore ideas to create a supportive, meaningful, and engaging learning environment. Each classroom is unique and with the right focus and lessons and activities, we can immerse students in authentic and meaningful learning opportunities and create a space where students can thrive together.
Starting the new school year off right makes all the difference
I am constantly trying to learn. Each summer, I use the time to explore new ideas, reflect, read, and be better prepared. As we head back to school, it is the perfect time to test out new ideas. We should always ask ourselves, "What is the impact on learning?" and then decide where to go from there.
We know that covering the content is important, but finding ways to boost student engagement and foster the development of essential social and emotional learning (SEL) skills are also important right from the start of the year. For years, I started the first day with rules and procedures and left little time for building relationships and getting students excited about learning. But now, I spend time considering SEL and how I can intentionally create ways for students to build these skills and hook them into learning from day one.
Some things to consider when starting a new school year: How can we get to know our students and their families? How can students get to know each other? What are activities and methods that impact student learning while building essential social-emotional learning (SEL) skills? Starting with these questions as a guide will help us cultivate a learning environment where students have choices, feel comfortable and become more confident. A space like this helps to amplify their learning potential starting from day one of a new school year.
6 Creative back-to-school activities to try out
Here are six ideas to try at the start of the year for some fun, to boost student engagement and for students to get to know each other and you.
From the first day, we want to make our students feel welcome and also connect with their families. Consistent communication is important. There are a variety of tools we can use, but why not choose just one! Use Buncee to create a Class Newsletter to share with students and families. There are many options for creating newsletters and with Buncee, many templates to choose from and teachers can include audio and video too! A great way to exchange information between home and school and fun to create for students and teachers.
As we look for ways to best prepare students with the skills they need, being able to communicate and collaborate with others is essential. At the start of the year, students may be hesitant to speak in front of classmates and are better able to build skills gradually using some different methods or tools available. With the use of learning stations, for example, where students can work with peers, or through digital tools such as Flip for speaking, Google Jamboard for brainstorming ideas, or Spaces for engaging in collaborative learning activities like scavenger hunts, we can promote collaboration. Students will build content area skills as well as digital citizenship skills and SEL skills.
Icebreakers and building relationships
Whether or not people are comfortable with ice breakers, there are many options for them and many benefits. By creating opportunities for students to connect, it will positively impact the learning that happens in our classroom. Students will feel more comfortable making mistakes and know their peers and teachers support them. Some easy ideas are to have students create an "About Me" to share with classmates. With paper, creating a sketchnote can be fun or using digital tools like Book Creator, Buncee or Genially. An infographic can also be a great choice and easy to make using templates available with these tools or trying Piktochart. It can be a quick graphic with facts about them or images to represent their interests.
Games and team-building
One of my favorite ways is to use traditional games like "Three truths and a lie," "Would you rather?" or use fun game-based learning tools that promote collaboration. Gimkit has continued to be a favorite with my students because it promotes increased content retention through repetitive questions and has different modes for playing it in the classroom. Students also build SEL skills as they play and have fun while learning. Classtime is a tool we tried last year that is focused on collaborative efforts to solve a challenge like air pollution, for example, and students enjoy working together as they respond to questions. BookWidgets offers more than 40 interactive templates for teachers to use as they design activities to help students build their skills. You can create bingo cards, crosswords, exit slips, hangman games, jigsaw puzzles, timelines, a word search and so much more to use with any content and for any grade level.
Creating and innovating
There are a lot of different ways that students can show what they have learned in ways that are unique to them and that promote SEL and student-driven learning. With activities like choice boards, hyperdocs or methods like Genius hour or PBL, we empower students with choice and give them the chance to set their own learning path and pace. Create a challenge for students to solve or ask students to engage in a genius hour project to share their genius with peers. With these options, add in some tools that spark creativity and curiosity in learning like Book Creator, PebbleGo Create, or Storyboard That. We can even add in some augmented and virtual reality tools like CoSpaces EDU to have students design and learn about emerging technologies.
Educators often look for new ways to engage students in learning and in particular, being able to understand where students are in the learning process, especially if not in person. With tools like Nearpod, a multimedia, interactive presentation tool, we can create engaging lessons with 3D objects, virtual trips, videos and more, to hook students in the lesson. Nearpod has thousands of ready-made lessons on topics such as career exploration, digital citizenship, social-emotional learning, and relevant to current events. For another interactive option, Pear Deck is great for checking in on students and can be used with any grade level or content area, as well as for professional development sessions. Use Google Slides and then add in different activities for students to respond to whether a check-in, drawing, or open-ended response. Being able to see results in real-time will help us to get to know our students better. Wakelet is a powerful tool for student learning. With Wakelet, teachers can design blended learning experiences, use it for station rotations, have students create a digital portfolio, create a scavenger hunt and many other possibilities.
Back-to-school activities for teachers
There are a lot of options to choose from. First, think about a few focus areas and also, involve students in the discussion. Don't be afraid to take some risks with new ideas or tools. With new ideas, we can boost student engagement and creativity, spark curiosity for learning and student needs and interests will be better met. New year and new opportunities for learning!